“From Bahaus To Our House”
Tom Wolfe is in the house
by Keith Purtell
If you have ever looked across a city skyline and wondered why it was filled with ugly glass boxes, or wondered why big corporations pay big money for big, boring buildings, “From Bahaus To Our House” answers the question. Hosted by author Tom Wolfe, this amusement park ride of a book is a hilarious study of modern architecture and its most prominent players.
Wolfe traces the path of important concepts that crossed the Atlantic and made their presence known in America. He outlines the brilliant origins of America’s own architectural concepts, and how they were almost snuffed out by the tendency of snooty corporate customers to abandon American talent in favor of fashionable European designers.
Wolfe describes the architecture business as a comedy of errors in which the mainstream architect carries his glass-box blueprints into high-powered board rooms, where powerful executives are so overwhelmed by the dog-and-pony show that they don’t dare question what they see. According to Wolfe, they typically cower before the arrogant architect, who brandishes his Bahaus red pillar like a saber. Rejecting the concept is not among the client’s options.
Although the book covers a wide variety of architectural thought, the only really admirable character is eccentric American genius Frank Lloyd Wright. While architects all around him wanted to build structures based on their own interpretations of traditional designs, Wright searched for design derived from Nature. He usually succeeded. Knowing what we do about Wright’s deficiencies as a person (he abandoned his first wife and their children), it is even more remarkable to witness the graceful serenity of one of his beautiful houses, nestled among trees, with a gentle stream gurgling past. Perhaps this is Wright’s redeeming social quality.
I doubt that Wright and Wolfe ever met, but “... Bahaus To Our House” is the intellectual intersection of two like minds.
Favorite moment: The wickedly funny story of Wright’s encounter with infamous machine-worshipper Walter Gropius.
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